“As the Parts Turn” or “How It All Goes Back Together”


The steam fountain on this 1922 Baldwin steam locomotive is a cast steel manifold that distributes steam to accessories and appliances such as the air compressor and injectors. It is located on top of the locomotive boiler inside the cab.   It is the main fixture for the distribution of steam to all of the appliances except the lubricator. (The lubricator has its own dedicated steam source.)  The fountain gets its supply of steam through a pipe that runs all the way into the steam dome.  The Turret Valve is the main “stop valve” that is used to shut off all of the steam flowing into the fountain in case of a steam leak or failure.  Early locomotives do not have this valve.
All of the valves on the fountain are typically closed or open. The valves include – two injector valves for the Monitor lifting injectors, an air compressor valve, the dynamo valve, the steam heat valve and a valve that supplies steam to the fireman’s manifold.  The air compressor valve was made by The Westinghouse Air Brake Company; the injector valves, firing manifold valve and lubricator supply valves are original valves made by the Baldwin Locomotive Works and have been on this locomotive since 1922.  This 95-year-old locomotive is amazingly original.

fig 1 turret diagram

Sierra No. 28’s Historic Steam Fountain

The image above shows the fountain when it was removed from No. 28 last year. The original firing manifold valve was removed in 1992 when it failed and was replaced with a contemporary Lunkenheimer steam valve.  It is quite common with historic locomotives that are operating to make field modifications that keep the engine running but may not be historically accurate. Twenty five years ago, the worn valve was put away in the parts warehouse in the valve bin. This valve was located and was rehabilitated by volunteer machinist Robert Williams. It will be put back in its historically correct location getting the No. 28 that much closer to how it would have looked back in the 1920s.
The type of valve that best describes the ones used on the fountain is the globe valve, seen below.

fig 2 globe valve

The valve stem or spindle (E) is located in the center. It is the bronze rod with the red handle on it. The stem is held in place by the valve body (G) and the bonnet(C). The bonnet also holds the packing nut (F) in place over the stem. This packing nut along with the packing bushing hidden underneath the packing nut (F) (not shown in this image) keeps the steam from escaping up the stem.  When the packing nut is tightened, pressure is applied evenly to the top of the packing bushing which then compresses the packing on the stem creating a steam tight seal.   The union nut (B) holds the bonnet in place. The threads on the valve stem allow the sealing disc (D) to travel into the seat (A) or away from the seat (valve in the open position) when the handle is turned.   This diagram shows the valve in the open position. A top nut (H) secures the handle to the stem/spindle.

fig 5 valve removed and on the benchFig 4 valve refurb

fig 3 a valve refub

A succession of images showing the turret valve’s transformational refurbishment. 

The work on the valves at the fountain is extremely specialized; as with most parts on a steam locomotive, there are no part numbers and no technical support.
All of the fountain valves needed attention.  Most stems/spindles were completely worn out allowing a lot of play- some almost to the point of thread failure.  We ordered C464 bronze stock and volunteer Robert Williams fashioned completely new valve stems for these two valves. Since the stems were very worn, and the internal threads in the bonnet were somewhat less so, Robert used reverse engineering (and some guesswork) to sneak up on the exact dimension and make a perfect fit between the internal threads of the bonnets and the new spindles.

fig 6 Jamestown steam valve square taper

New and old spindles

The two identical appearing injector valves gave us a big surprise when it was discovered that one is a 6 pitch (threads per inch) Acme thread and the other is a 5 pitch.  We are still wondering if they came from Baldwin that way.  For more information on Acme threads click here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trapezoidal_thread_forms

All of the packing bushings in these globe valves were found to be in poor condition so all new packing bushings were made to fit the needs of each valve.  At the request of George, Robert included a custom lip on the top of each new packing bushing which will make servicing the packing in the future much easier.


The nuts that secure the handles to the top of the stem/spindle, was also of dubious quality with no common design between any of them.  It was easier to start fresh with stainless steel hex stock and make tall heavy style hex nuts that will complement the entire set of rebuilt valves and look great for the next century.  A custom “washer cut” was made on the nuts while in the lathe so the bottom of each nut will never need a flat washer in service.
The turret valve had a much-corroded seat.  Our gracious volunteer machinist used a 3 ½ “valve seat cutter to recut the turret valve seat to perfection, removing almost a century of pit corrosion that looked like Swiss cheese.turret vavle seat set up diagram

Fig 9 removing corroded seat

The 3 1/2 inch seat cutter dressing up the turret valve seat in the milling machine

fig 10 old vavle stems

Nearly a century old, the valve stems removed from the various fountain valves were worn, some very worn. 

fig 11 valves lined up on machine

Vavles awaiting complete overhaul


Here are the refurbished valves that will be installed on the fountain. 


Locomotive No.28- Putting All the Bits Back On

After getting the boiler water tight and completing the hydrostatic testing, everything that was taken apart begins to come back together. All of the items removed from the locomotive for access to the boiler were closely inspected for wear and tear and either determined to be refurbished, replaced with like materials, or found safe and suitable to go back on the engine. The list of parts is extensive, but here are the highlights from the last few months.

working on the fire pan

New steel  plate installed in the firepan.

firepan with text

This image shows the old repairs (stabilizing the firepan with old rail) re-worked onto the new steel fabric under the pan.

The firepan and damper box had to have extensive work done on them. The bottom of the firepan was replaced with steel plate. The old firepan had been reinforced with 40 lb. rail in two places. The ends of the old rail had been forged smaller to fit flush with the firepan and then riveted on. This kind of repair clearly demonstrates the thriftiness and ingenuity of a lean short line railroad. The lead restoration worker was unable to determine whether or not this firepan was the original one from 1922. An entirely new damper box was constructed with exception of the riveted joints. The sides of the box were replaced with plate.  The damper box is now made up of both old and new fabric.

old damper box cropped

One of the more handsome shots of the old damper box

new damper box construction

Scott Botfield applying new sides while saving the old riveted frame.

Moving along to the front end, all the bits in the smoke box were reinstalled. The superheater elements, that had been tested previously for leaks went in and were tightened with a careful touch to avoid breaking the header. The header is a complex iron casting in the front end that receives saturated steam from the throttle, distributes it to the superheater elements, collects the superheated steam and delivers it to the piston valves through the distribution pipes.

superheaters going in

Scott installing the superheater elements

superheaters in

All done!

When the original nozzle stand was tightened back into place, one of the mounting flanges broke off while being tightened down. Inspection at the break revealed that the metal was extremely thinned from 94 years of being exposed to the corrosive environment of the smoke box. Miraculously, the new old stock replacement part was found outdoors alongside the warehouse. It was in pristine, unused, unapplied condition. The “new” nozzle was identical to the old one. Finding this part was a huge time saver, for had we not found it, we would have had to make a pattern and send off to the foundry for casting. Volunteer Robert Williams came in and machined the new holes for the studs and fly cut the base, as the “new” nozzle stand was a rough casting.


On the left is the old nozzle stand. Note the thinness at the base compared to the “new”  nozzle stand on the right. 

machining new nozzle

Here is the shop set up for machining the nozzle stand. 

After the nozzle stand was tightened down,  the petticoat and smoke box netting were installed. The smoke box ring and door were freshened up and placed back on making the front end look like its old familiar self.

smokebox front

Freshening up the smoke box ring

The bell was polished by spinning on a lathe and reinstalled after new pins had been made.

bell before


Polished bell



Here is the refreshed bell on its way to No.28. 

The sand dome went on.dome going back on


At the cab, the floor and cab braces were patched with new steel, replacing the old, bent and pitted plate that was there before.


patch Engineer's side floor

Where old meets new on the Engineer’s side floor



Lagging and mud

The lagging bricks are in the back and on the steam dome, the foreground shows the “mud”. 

The lubricator lines were reinstalled and then the lagging was applied. The lubricator lines go in at this time because they travel all along the boiler from the backhead. They are hidden under the jacket.

The lagging (insulation that covers the boiler) is composed of calcium silicate blocks. Until the early 1980s it contained asbestos. All of the material used today is asbestos free.  The blocks are held in place along the boiler barrel with wire, and then given a rough top coat of “mud”. The mud is calcium based cement that is plastered into the crevices between the lagging blocks. This insulation helps to retain the heat in the boiler. It also evens out the surface of the boiler so that the sheet metal jacket has continuous support beneath it which keeps it smooth and good looking.

Now we are working inside the firebox adding new refractory brick after reinstalling the old burner.  The burner is a Von Boden, made in San Francisco.

bricks going in

New refractory brick commencing at the damper box, eventually it will cover the bottom and sides of the firebox, leaving a space for the Von Boden burner shown at the  center.

Meanwhile Eric is putting the finishing touches on the tender and also painting the plumbing lines and accessories.

tender paint prep

Prep for the tender was extensive. Assistant Eric Dowty filled pits and dings, and then primed. 

fresh tender and many bits

In the back ground, the final paint on the tender, and the foreground showing all the bits that will be painted soon. 

The steam fountain comes next. It is the main manifold located at the top of the boiler in the cab that distributes steam to all of the accessories.  It comprised of the main steam shut off (turret valve) and other associated valves that control the flow of steam to all of the accessories such as the injectors, air compressor, fireman’s manifold, etc.  Look for details on our next blog entry.

Replacing the flues and getting the boiler water tight.

Back in the early 20th Century, when labor was inexpensive the boiler flues were assessed and if found to be sound, they were cut out, cleaned of scale and then reused. This was because material was expensive. Today, it’s the other way around, materials are relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of labor it would take to clean and repair 148 flues.

Now that all the old tubes are out of Engine 28’s boiler and the crown sheet has been repaired, and stay bolts replaced, we are completing the tube job and getting closer to the hydrostatic testing.

Photo of tubes with letter key Fig 1

This image is a close up of the tube sheet, also called the flue sheet. You can see that the tube sheet has been cleaned and ground off (C), this was done to clean up any chipping or unsavory remnants left behind from the removal of the old flues. Removing the old flues requires the use of force in hand with some sensitivity to the surface of the flue sheet. However, at times even the most seasoned boiler worker can chip the flue sheet.

The copper ferrules ( F) are gently tapped into the flue holes with a hammer. The ferrules are expanded into place to ensure that they do not move when the tube is applied.  They act as a seal between the tube sheet and the new tube. Next, the tubes are inserted into the flue holes (D) leaving  a small protrusion.   The standard measure of protrusion of the new tube is ¼”. Then they too, are expanded and rolled. The result is a tight fitting tube with a visible indentation on the interior (A ) and a slight flare at the end of the tube. The extra ¼” of tube allows for a good bead (B) that seals the flue to the flue sheet and makes the boiler water tight. After the beading of the tubes, another light roll is given to each new tube because the beading is an aggressive action.

Beading is an art. It involves using a pneumatic hammer or riveter and a specialized tip. In the image above (E) shows a bead that is rough, and (B) shows a bead that is more controlled and refined. It takes a bit of practice to get all the beads looking smooth, but regardless of the appearance, the work will hold.


This image shows the business end of the tube roller/expander. The old rusty shaft next to it is one of the older pieces of a previous roller/expander from the earlier days of boiler work in the roundhouse.

For this project we used this modern electric motor to roll and expand the tubes ( left), but back in the day a pneumatic model would be used ( right)..

Fig 5 drawing from REB

This diagram is from The Railway Educational Bureau Instructional Papers of 1927. It shows a beaded flue end from the side and the front views.

Phil beading, Fig 6

Here you can see Phil Hard beading one of the flues. The pneumatic hammer weighs over 20 pounds, so you can imagine the amount of strength required to do beading all day.


After all the beading is done, each flue then gets another straight roll to ensure the tube is tight in the flue sheet. Beading is intrusive work and it can cause the flues to loosen. The final roll remedies this.

expander rollers Fig 7

These are the tips that are used with the electric motor for the final, straight roll.


After all the beading and rolling, it is time to fill up the boiler and check for any leaks. With the boiler full of cold water at local pressure we begin to assess and address leaks. Once these are addressed it will be time for a true Hydrostatic Test, adding pressure and heat to the 93 year old boiler of Sierra Engine No. 28.


Installation Of Staybolts


Now that the firebox sheets have been replaced, the primary focus is now on the installation of the staybolts. Approximately 300 staybolts were cut out in the areas where the new firebox sheets were applied.


Assortment of old staybolts that were removed.

The firebox sheets are supported by many stay bolts. The boiler shell (wrapper sheet) around the firebox has a water space between the inner and outer sheets.  The staybolts function is to hold the boiler shell and the firebox firmly together.

flex stay-bolt

Diagram of a Flexible Stay-bolt showing the wrapper sheet (left) and the firebox sheet.


Staybolt layout



The original stay-bolts were 3/4” diameter according to the original build sheet. The new stay-bolts are 1” in diameter. They are increased in size due to repeated renewal of the threads during the tapping process. Re-threading the staybolt holes ensures a snug fit with the new staybolts.  The holes are stepped up in 1/16″ increments.


New staybolts  awaiting installation.

A staybolt tap is used to clean up the threads prior to installation of the stay bolts. An air motor is used to turn the stay bolt tap to cut threads in the wrapper and firebox sheets. The staybolt is then threaded into the sheets and the ends peened over with an air hammer.


Tools of the trade.  Three reamers and a staybolt tap.



Running a reamer through a mud ring rivet hole.



Bucking Bar

While the staybolt is being driven with a pneumatic hammer it is simultaneously being braced. To prevent damaging the staybolt’s threads, the opposite end must be supported. A bucking bar is placed on the end of the staybolt to back it up.


Peened staybolt.



The Polar Express at Railtown 1897– Just the Start of Your State Parks Adventure!

If you are heading up into the Sierra Foothills for a ride on The Polar Express at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park this holiday season, round out your family adventure with a visit to other nearby state parks.

Columbia State Historic Park is  just a short 7 mile drive from Railtown 1897 State Historic Park and is full of holiday spirit for the month of December. The historic Gold Rush town is decorated with cedar bows, and lots of old-fashioned cheer. Park shops are open daily from 10am to 5pm, and offer unique shopping options.  You can watch old-fashioned candy canes being made at Nelson’s Columbia Candy Kitchen, shop at the leather store, candle store or book store, enjoy a sarsaparilla or fresh baked cookie, and make family memories on a stagecoach ride.  During Miner’s Christmas you can also enjoy fresh roasted chestnuts and old-fashioned children’s games on the street.  Free town tours are offered every Saturday and Sunday at 11am and Columbia has a wonderful little museum.

The California Store at Columbia State Historic Park with a rare dusting of snow

The California Store at Columbia State Historic Park with a rare dusting of snow

Columbia State Historic Park offers  unique accommodations  in two historic hotels.  The City and Fallon Hotels are located on Main Street,  inside the park and offer beautifully restored Victorian-era rooms. The park also has several cottages available for overnight stays– perfect for families. Call the City Hotel to book your room or cottage at (209) 532-1479. Show the hotel staff your Polar Express tickets and you will receive a 20% percent discount for your entire stay!

Guest room in the City Hotel at Columbia State Historic Park

Guest room in the City Hotel at Columbia State Historic Park

Another California State Park within driving distance of both Railtown 1897 and Columbia is Calaveras Big Trees State Park located in Arnold, Ca. In the Winter months the park often has snow, and is home to some of the largest trees in the world, making this winter wonderland a must-see. The spectacular Sequoia redwoods can be seen on an easy trail hike. Once snow arrives in the park, guided snowshoe tours are held on Saturdays at 1 pm. Snow shoes are available on a first come first serve basis. Calaveras Big Trees State Park also has cabins available for rent. Call the park for more information at (209) 795-2334.

Giant Sequoia at Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Giant Sequoia at Calaveras Big Trees State Park

And, of course, don’t forget to come back and visit Railtown 1897 State Historic Park during the daytime!  Tours of the historic roundhouse are available everyday.  This unique building is one of only two original, functioning steam-era roundhouses.  Climb into the cab of one of the sleeping giants, see a locomotive restoration in progress, visit the belt driven machine shop, and view the historic track car collection.  If you come between noon and 3PM on the Polar Express days, you can even watch the train crew firing up the famous Sierra No. 3 steam engine for the evening. The park also has a self-guided Jr. Ranger program.  Print the book ahead of time, or pick one up for free at the Depot Store (209) 984-3953.

Get an up-close view of a steam engine in the Roundhouse

Get an up-close view of a steam engine in the Roundhouse

Lots to see and do at these California State Parks in December.  Make this your new holiday tradition!
December Events in Columbia and Railtown 1897 State Historic Parks & Calaveras Big Trees State Park:

November 27-Dec 20th Candy Cane Making– Columbia SHP

December 2nd and 3rd  Lamplight Tours– Columbia SHP

December 12th Gold Rush Days– Columbia SHP

December 9th, 11th, 15th, and 16th The Victorian Feast at the City Hotel

December 10th, 11th, 17th, and 18th A Miners Christmas– Columbia SHP

December 11th Los Posadas Nativity Procession– Columbia SHP

December 11thEquestrian Parade- Columbia SHP

December Saturday Snowshoe Tours– Calaveras Big Trees SP

The Polar Express at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, December 2,3 4, 9,10,11,16,17,18.  Trains depart at 4:30, 6:00 and 7:30.  Tickets sell out quickly.

Annual Maintenance on the Sierra No. 3

Every year, in accordance with the Federal Railroad Administration Regulations (FRA), Railtown 1897 State Historic Park conducts an annual inspection on all operating steam engines. Locomotives that are not operated often enough to accrue either 31 or 92 service days in a 368 day period will have those inspections conducted, at a minimum, of once every 368 calendar days. This annual inspection is a preventative maintenance approach to keeping this famous “Movie Star” locomotive in prime running condition. All moving components of the locomotive are investigated and gone over with a “fine tooth comb”.  Active engineers on the engine give their input on running condition and what may need to be examined. Overall the No. 3 was in exceptional shape and only needed a few minor modifications during this year’s winter maintenance.


Smoke Box cleaned.

One of the dirtiest tasks maintaining a locomotive is cleaning the smoke box. The most efficient way to remove ash and soot from the smoke box is to crawl inside the smoke box and manually shovel and brush the debris out. The hard to reach areas can be whisked through the clean-out plug located on the bottom of the smoke box. On a very active locomotive a smoke box must be cleaned every 90 days. With the minimal use of the Sierra No. 3, it is only required once a year.


Tender removed from the cab to prepare for maintenance.

Here we see the engine’s cab separated from the tender. The tender was taken outside of the roundhouse to allow working space both for projects on the engine and tender. The tender’s interior was wire brushed to remove scale and debris build up, while the engine was lifted with air-jacks to inspect various maneuvering facets of this locomotive.


Park employee’s Phil Hard and Scott Botfield removing the drawbar from the engine and the tender.

A drawbar is a solid coupling between the engine and it’s load. The drawbar is removed annually and examined for any cracks. After removel, a thorough cleaning must be done.


Park Volunteer Garret Hanford removing grease and debris from the drawbar.

First, grease and other substances must be scraped off. A grinder with a cut brush will remove the rest of the surface debris. Once cleaned down to the bare metal, it is ready for a 3 part dye penetrate examination.


Park volunteer Dave Tadlock applying dye penetrate to the drawbar.

First it is sprayed with a cleaner. Once dry, it is sprayed with a colored dye. If there are any cracks the dye will submerge and be seen after the final step. Next, the colored dye is then wiped off with a rag. The final step is spraying the drawbar with a developer. At this time if there are any cracks they will stand out through the developer. Luckily there were not any cracks discovered.


Journal box staple seen between center spokes of wheel. (Note: Skewed leaf springs)

Examining the geometry of the leaf spring suspension and observations of an arm moving too close to the frame, it was decided that adjustments were in order.  It was determined that the journal box staples needed to be removed, built up, and milled to exactly 11”.


Journal box staple removed.

This journal box staple was removed, measured, and inspected.


Park Employee Scott Botfield adding weld to build up the staple.

After measurements and calculations, weld was affixed to the staple legs to lift it to slightly above 11″.


Affixed weld on staple.

Weld applied to staple legs and waiting to be milled.


Machinist Tony Stroud milling the staple.

Milling or machining, is a process of using rotary cutters to remove excess material. This process will ensure precise sizes and shapes. Here we see the journal box staple being milled to exact specifications.


Journal box staple in process of milling.

Milling the staple to precisely 11”.


Journal box staple after milling process.


Park Employee Scott Botfield using a cutting torch to cut off excess slag.

A cutting torch is used to remove excess material from the legs of the staple.


Scott Botfield using a chipping hammer to remove slag from the staple.

A chipping hammer is used to remove remaining slag (waste material) from the staple. It was then planed with a grinder.


Journal box staple and leaf suspension reassembled.


Scott Botfield using a cutting torch to remove a section of the brake bar.

30” of the brake bar was removed and replaced due to apparent defects. The section was removed by a cutting torch and a new section was welded into place.


Park Volunteer Eric Nielsen doing the “Dirty Work” of cleaning the pit.

While the No. 3 was removed from the roundhouse for inspection, park volunteers were able to clean out the pit and surrounding shop area. A clean work space will enable future maintenance to be performed safely and more efficiently.

The Sierra No. 3 was inspected, fine tuned, and is awaiting park visitors for the upcoming running season.



New Volunteer Open House- January 31st, 2015

Railtown Volunteer help visitors understand why This Place Matters.

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park Volunteer help visitors understand why This Place Matters.

JAMESTOWN, Calif. (January 09, 2015) –Railtown 1897 State Historic Park (SHP) is seeking volunteers to help with education and interpretation programs at the park, and will be hosting an open house at the end of the month to offer more information.

The Volunteer Open House will take place on Saturday January 31, 2015 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, located on 5th Avenue and Reservoir Road, Jamestown CA.  All volunteer applications must be submitted no later than Thursday February 12, as training programs will begin on Saturday February 14.  At the Open House, prospective volunteers will have the opportunity to meet Park staff and current volunteers, and learn about the various positions currently available.  Informal tours of the operation will be conducted, and snacks will be served. While no previous experience with trains or public service is required, recruitment is also currently underway for Car Host and Tour Guide volunteer positions.  Experience is not necessary- training will be provided.

Railtown 1897 SHP is known for its century-old steam maintenance shops and train rides, including popular rides behind the famous Sierra No. 3 (also known as the “Movie Star Locomotive”). In addition to weekend excursion steam trains (April through October), Railtown 1897 SHP offers daily tours, roving interpreters, and many special events, including The Polar Express ™.

Benefits for volunteering at Railtown 1897 SHP include membership in the California State Railroad Museum Foundation, free admission to and train rides at Railtown 1897 SHP and at the California State Railroad Museum, a variety of social activities, interesting training opportunities and guest speakers, discounts at the Depot Store, and participation in an annual volunteer recognition dinner. Interested volunteers can download a volunteer application at http://www.railtown1897.org/volunteer or call 209-984-4408 for more information.